Archaeology and Ancient History (VVC4): Selected Module Descriptions Year 2

Second Year 

Compulsory modules 

Artefacts and Material Culture (20 credits)

Artefacts and materials provide us with insights into other ways of life, art, cognition, technology and the materiality of human existence - practically and in terms of symbolic expression and sensory experience. Artefacts are also the primary media for representing the past in museums - a key point of contact for public engagement with cultural heritage. Archaeology is at the cutting edge of material culture studies, heavily influencing – and being influenced by – new approaches in anthropology, art history, heritage conservation and museology.

The module is divided into two sections. The first part explores the collection, curation, interpretation and presentation of material culture in museum displays and repositories. This will include discussion of display methods (including digital media), and the values, meanings and aesthetics of artefact presentation. The second part of the module examines current approaches to the interpretation of material culture, focusing on social life in the material world, relationships between beliefs, knowledge, action and artefacts, and fundamental aspects of human existence such as technology, ritual, gender, age, cult, ethnicity and power.

Mediterranean and European Archaeology (20)

How and from where did Mycenae get its amber? What was the importance of salt from Austria? Why is there Classical Greek pottery and metalwork in central Europe? Why had Roman amphorae already overrun Gaul long before Caesar? The Mediterranean and Temperate Europe are often regarded as two separate worlds before they were forcibly united by Rome. But in fact there was always contact between the two regions and they impacted on each other in crucial ways. This module will look at the evidence (principally archaeological, some textual) for these interactions from the later Bronze Age through the Iron Age to the eve of the Roman expansion out of the Mediterranean. It will look at the evidence for how contact was driven by the needs for natural resources and for luxury items and how these were obtained and how control of access to these resources resulted in profound social changes visible in the evidence for activities such as trade, warfare, ritual and religion, feasting, coinage. The evidence will include fortifications, settlements, funerary practice and material culture, with an emphasis on the long-distance links.

Seminar II (choice of seminar topics) (20)

A range of topics (circa 15 each year) will be offered across the disciplinary scope of Department.  The topics will vary according to the current research interests of each member of staff but will normally focus on a well defined body of primary literary, visual, historical or archaeological data. Staff will publish a 300 word account of the topic offered and its research potential together with a brief introductory bibliography before course registration each year to enable students to select from themes related to their own period, area or subject interests.

Study Tour (20)

The Study Tour gives students the opportunity to plan and undertake travel to various parts of the world (usually Italy, Greece, or Turkey) to visit sites, monuments and museums of particular interest to their degree programmes. Group work is key to the module: students plan, travel and present work as a group (normally 2-6 students in a group).

Semester 1 is the is the tour preparation section. In groups, students decide where they are going to visit, choose individual research topics, plan a detailed and annotated itinerary including two weeks of Study Tour activity, prepare a preliminary bibliography (academic and practical) and present these as an illustrated report. In addition they prepare a preliminary version of the University Risk Assessment form. In the course of the teaching period of Semester 2, students will liaise with their academic supervisor on two to four occasions to optimise their academic understanding of what is to be visited before setting out. In the Easter Vacation each group will undertake a 14-day Study Tour as outlined in their first illustrated report.

Example optional modules may include: 

Field Archaeology (20)

This module reviews current archaeological project design and fieldwork method and their importance for understanding archaeological interpretation. The first part consists of lectures on the methodological basis of field archaeology, and seminars and classes involving coursework exercises on project design, organisation, field practice and investigative methods. The second part involves practical experience and learning in a fieldwork environment, including training and participation in project organisation, data gathering and recording tasks. Students will be tasked with responsible fieldwork roles and will take part in on-site project reviews. 

From Mummification to Burial (20)

For the ancient Egyptians the most crucial part of life was their posthumous travel to the beyond without dying a second death. Each dead individual had to pass several stages before s/he could become an Osiris and lead his/her life as a circumpolar star in the beyond, “sitting and standing up with the gods”. In this option course we will be looking into the mechanics necessary to guarantee a positive outcome of this rite of passage in order to successfully socialise the deceased into the world of the dead. Textual as well as archaeological sources will help to unfold a detailed picture of the various processes and concepts involved. Among many other topics, we will look into several cemeteries in detail, discuss child burials, listen to recitations performed by priests in the embalming chambers and learn to understand how the Book of the Dead worked. The focus of this option course will be on funerary belief offering a complete picture of how a burial procession leading from the embalming chamber to the tomb was organised, including all rituals and personnel involved. It will enable you to understand ancient Egyptian funerary rituals and religion and will give you an integral picture of the complexity of ancient Egyptian ritual practice. 

Greece and Rome in Film and TV (20)

In this module students engage with representations of ancient Greece and Rome in cinema and television, selected from a range of films and programmes from the mid-20th to the early 21st century. Students also become acquainted with theories of film and media studies, and with the study of film/tv as a branch of classical reception studies.

Greek, Latin or Egyptian Langauge at appropriate level (20 or 40)

Human Remains (20)

This module will focus on the archaeology of human remains, from forensic analysis through to the display of human remains within museums. It will introduce students to how human remains are encountered in archaeology, how they can be examined forensically, and what types of information can be discovered. The course will also explore the storage and presentation of human remains, such as within museums, addressing questions relating to the ethics and practice of exhibiting them and how this varies in different countries. The course is taught through a combination of lectures, hands-on practical sessions and museums visits.

Imperial Egypt (20)

 The New Kingdom (Eighteenth to Twentieth Dynasties, c. 1550-1070 BC) saw the transformation of Egypt from an impoverished country ruled by the foreign ‘Hyksos’ to an empire stretching from the Euphrates in Syria to the fifth cataract on the Nile in modern Sudan. It was thus an era of warrior pharaohs but also of Hatshepsut, Akhenaten and Tutankhamun. International trade and diplomacy figure prominently, as do enormous religious building projects, extensively decorated tombs such as that of Nebamun, the Book of the Dead, personal religion and the village of Deir el-Medina. It’s also the period of Amenhotep, son of Hapu, later deified, and Khaemwese, the ‘first Egyptologist’. 

The New Kingdom has left an extensive archaeological and historical record, richer in many respects than any other period of Egyptian history. This module addresses a range of different topics and themes in a broadly chronological framework and consistently emphasises primary sources. If you’re intrigued by Egyptian temples and gods, by what they believed about an afterlife, by famous pharaohs, by relief carving, painting and sculpture, diplomatic correspondence and private letters, or interconnections with Africa, the Near East and the Mediterranean, there is something here for you. Much of what you read about ancient Egypt is interpretation rather than ‘fact’, and this module will enable you to understand the evidence on which such discussion is based.

Imperial Rome (20)

This module will examine Roman society in the first to third centuries AD – the time when the empire was at its height, when huge building projects expressed the wealth and confidence and when one could travel from northern Britain to Iraq without leaving Roman control. There are three main strands to the module. One will examine the power structures of the empire: the state under Augustus; imperial rule – Caligula, Nero, and Hadrian; imperial women; imperialism and conquest; and imperial cult. The second will look at our writers – Pliny the Younger, Tacitus and Suetonius and will consider how far our ‘Rome’ is a product of their agendas. The third will look at wider society: ‘muted’ groups such as the poor, women and slaves; Rome’s relationship with its eastern territories including the Greeks and the Jews; religion under Rome; Rome, the non-Roman and resistance; death and disease.

Republican Rome: From the Gracchi to Caesar (20)

This module will examine the last century of the Roman Republic and in particular the political, social and cultural shifts that took place. A central question will be how the Roman political system coped with the effects of having become the dominant power in the Mediterranean, and the internal, social strains which intensified as a result. Students will gain a thorough grounding in the primary sources for this period (including the writings of Cicero, Caesar and Plutarch, as well as other material, including epigraphical and archaeological evidence where appropriate), and also with the latest developments in the study of the Late Roman Republic.

Roman Britain and the Roman Army (20)

This module uses the evidence for the Roman army in Britain both as a case-study the Roman army on an empire-wide basis and as a defining aspect of the study of Roman Britain. It introduces students to the sources of evidence for and debates about a range of topics including: the structure of the Roman army; the evidence for its forts and fortresses; conditions of service; military equipment; civilians and the Roman army; frontiers, especially Hadrian’s Wall and the Antonine Wall; the late Roman army and the Saxon Shore.

Sumerian Language and Culture (20)

The module begins with a hands-on initiation into the cuneiform writing system, and a graduated introduction to the structure of the Sumerian language.  The first part of the module is devoted to study of shorter royal inscriptions of the Third Dynasty of Ur.  In the second part examples of the somewhat more complex Royal inscriptions of the Second Dynasty of Lagash are studied.

Thinking Athenian (20)

Classical Athenians saw themselves as special. Descended from kings born from the earth itself, championed by the goddess Athena (who had to fight Poseidon for the honour!), inventors of democracy, victors at Marathon and Salamis, inventors of the dramatic arts, home to the best minds in the world, the list goes on and on. This module will look at Athenian attitudes to a variety of issues including: bravery, leisure, sexuality, politics, religion, warfare, money, and imperialism. It will also focus closely on the Athenian tendency towards the “othering” of non-elite male groups such as women, slaves, and foreigners, and even the poor. Ultimately we will be aiming to answer the question of whether the Athenians were peculiar in how they thought about the world.